In Lopez v. Wilsonart (Fla. 5th DCA Jul 12, 2019), the Fifth DCA held that a trial court erred by granting summary judgment based upon video evidence. A question of fact existed because an eyewitness’s testimony differed from the video, even though the video completely contradicted an eyewitness’s testimony about the facts of the incident.
In this wrongful death action, the driver of a pickup truck died after rear-ending a freightliner truck. A front-facing dashboard camera clearly showed that the freightliner was traveling straight in its lane. As the frieghtliner came to a gradual stop at a red light, the camera shows that the freightliner experienced a large impact, forcing it to veer to the left. The frieghtliner driver moved for summary judgment based upon the video and his consistent testimony about the events of the crash.
Despite the clear video evidence, the estate of the pickup truck driver opposed the summary judgment motion with the deposition testimony of an independent eye witness. The witness testified that he saw the freightliner suddenly swerve to the left before the collision. The estate’s expert, relying primarily on this witness account, testified that the truck was partially in another lane before the collision.
The trial court granted summary judgment. In granting summary judgment, the trial court concluded that the video evidence blatantly contradicted the eyewitness testimony and the expert opinion.
However, the Fifth DCA reversed, holding that the trial court improperly weighed the evidence by ruling that the video completely negated the eyewitness testimony and expert opinion. Under long-standing Florida precedent, summary judgment is not available if there is any possible dispute of fact, no matter how minimal. Although the appellate court recognized that the video was compelling and directly contradictory to the estate’s evidence, summary judgment encroached into the jury’s exclusive responsibility to weigh evidence and determine credibility.
The opinion rejected the United States Supreme Court’s analysis in Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), which held that summary judgment is available if video evidence so blatantly contradicts eyewitness testimony that no reasonable jury could believe it. The opinion distinguished the Supreme Court’s logic due to the significant differences between the Federal and Florida summary judgment standards.
The opinion also rejected the analysis of the Florida Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 209 So. 3d 1165 (Fla. 2017), in which a circuit court conducting appellate review of a driver’s license suspension hearing did not err in rejecting a police officer’s testimony where real-time video evidence “totally contradicted and refuted” the officer’s testimony. Again, the opinion distinguished Wiggins because it analyzed a standard of appellate review, rather than Florida’s strict summary judgment standard.
Interestingly, the opinion did not cite to Brookie v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 213 So. 3d 1129 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017), which affirmed summary judgment based on video evidence that “conclusively refuted” the plaintiff’s testimony describing the facts of the incident.
Nonetheless, the Fifth certified a question of great importance to the Florida Supreme Court, seeking clarity on whether an exception to Florida’s strict summary judgment standard should be carved out where video evidence clearly negates or refutes the evidence in opposition.